The Depth Coach | Carl Jung and Albert Einstein: A Rare Meeting of Two Great Minds
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25 Jun / Carl Jung and Albert Einstein: A Rare Meeting of Two Great Minds


        This blog article seeks to address to what extent Albert Einstein influenced C.G. Jung’s formulation of the concept of synchronicity. Few historical personalities have engendered the degree of interest within popular consciousness as Albert Einstein and C.G. Jung. Both men, and their ideas, are permanent fixtures to the cultural lexicon. In 1999, Time magazine even went as far as naming Albert Einstein the Person of the Century. He has become crystalized in popular culture as the archetypical genius. Jung’s name on the other hand does not have same currency as Einstein’s, however his contributions to culture are comparable as indicated by the mainstay of such terms as complex, archetype, introvert and extravert. Over a half century after their deaths, both men, in varying degrees, still fascinate the world at large. Hollywood has immortalized their images through many movies that have attempted to capture—rather, I should say caricature—the essence of each man. Both men in a sense are still alive today.
        Einstein and Jung are ostensibly as different as they are similar. Both men’s work tends to captivate mainstream culture while simultaneously giving rise to many general misconceptions. Einstein was a non-observant Jew while Jung was a disillusioned Christian. Jung was the son of a protestant pastor, Einstein the son of an electrician. Conversely, both men were scientists. They were both Swiss citizens. They both were alumni of the University of Zurich. Both were professors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Both Jung and Einstein encountered a number of hardships while growing up. For instance, Einstein felt socially awkward and out of place in primary school and Jung, an introvert, had self-induced fainting spells so that he could avoid going to school. Both men’s first job turned out to be windfalls that would lead to breakthrough discoveries—Einstein’s formulation of Relativity and Jung’s hypothesis of a collective unconscious. Both men were autodidactic learners and had an impressive grasp on continental philosophy. Einstein and Jung were significantly influenced by Germanic idealism, most notably in the work of Kant. According his childhood acquaintance Max Talmey, Albert Einstein read the Critique of Pure Reason when he was 13 years old.

Thereafter, philosophy was often a subject of our conversations, I recommended to him the reading of Kant. At that time he was still a child, only thirteen years old, yet Kant’s works, incomprehensible to ordinary mortals, seemed to be clear to him. (Clark, 1971, p. 16,)

        Einstein also wrote a review for a book about Kant’s philosophy and he repeatedly referred to Kant’s ideas in his conversations and letters. For instance, in a 1931 letter to Sigmund Freud, Einstein placed Kant in the same category as Jesus. Einstein wrote, “This great aim has been professed by all those who have been venerated as moral and spiritual leaders beyond the limits of their own time and country without exception, from Jesus Christ to Goethe and Kant” (p. 10). In a letter dated April 27, 1958 to Joseph F. Rychlak, Jung identified Kant as one of his main influences. “The philosophical influence that has prevailed in my education dates from Plato, Kant, Schopenauer, Ed. Von Hartmann and Nietzche” (1976, pp. 500-501). Kant is mentioned a total of 22 times in Jung’s collected works and Schopenauer and Plato are runners-up with 14 references each. Johann von Goethe’s Faust was Jung’s favorite book, as well as his mother’s (Bair, 2003, p. 53). Similarly, Einstein was squarely influenced by Goethe and his work. Einstein had in his personal library at Princeton an impressive collection of books on Germanic philosophers to include the entire collected works of Goethe, whose thirty-six volume edition to include two volumes on Optics, loomed grandiosely on his shelf. Faust not surprisingly was there as well.
        Jung developed the concept of Synchronicity toward the end of his career having published Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle in 1952, nine years before his death; whereas Albert Einstein published his famous paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” introducing the theory of Relativity in 1905 at the age of 27 in what is considered the Annus Mirablis or miracle year. He did all of this while still working as a patent clerk in Bern. As a result of their career fields—Jung as a psychologist and Einstein as a physicist—and arguably their own typology, Jung naturally approached problems more qualitatively whereas Einstein approached them quantitatively. Or as Jung wrote in a letter: “One can scarcely imagine a greater contrast than that between the mathematical and the psychological mentality. The one is extremely quantitative and the other just as extremely qualitative” (Jung, 1976, pp. 108-109).
        The connection between Albert Einstein and C.G. Jung was originally brought to my attention from a letter between Jung and Einstein’s biographer Carl Seelig. In the letter Jung identified Einstein as a primary influence on his “thinking about a possible Relativity of time as well as space [italics added], and their psychic conditionality.” This letter is central to my thesis and marks a logical point of departure. I will return to this letter in its entirety later in the paper to further expound on what it means; for now, I turn my attention to addressing the central question of this paper. There is credible evidence—as I will show—that Einstein did in fact influence Jung. The question that I seek to answer therefore is not whether he did, but to what extent and through what means. My first step consists of charting a linear course through a number of accounts that directly link Jung to Einstein by location. Secondly, I will turn to a number of allusions to Einstein and his ideas in Jung’s collected works. Third, I will refer to a series of letters where Jung discusses Einstein or his theories.
        There are no extant letters between Einstein and Jung and I could find no evidence that Jung or Einstein directly corresponded with one another. I will necessarily draw on indirect connections between Jung and Einstein through a mutual advocate: Wolfgang Pauli. Thus, not only will I concentrate on the relationship between Einstein and Jung, but also Einstein’s relationship with Pauli and Pauli’s relationship with Jung. As I will later suggest—and has been a subject of many articles and books—Pauli was a key figure in Jung’s conceptualization and subsequent formulation of Synchronicity. It is in this way that I may make the necessary connections from Einstein’s thinking on Relativity and Jung’s formulation of his idea of Synchronicity rooted in an acausal paradigm. Lastly, I will also examine the confluence of the theory of Relativity and the concept of Synchronicity prior to transitioning to the paper’s conclusion and closing thoughts.

Meetings of Remarkable Minds

        Einstein and Jung lived in Zurich during the same period and travelled the same academic circles. Einstein was a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology from January 30, 1912 through December 1913 while Jung was a doctor at the Burgholzi Psychiatric Institution between 1900 and 1909. Jung went on to start his own private practice in Kusnacht following his exit from the Burgholzi Psychiatric Institution. As early as January 18, 1911, Jung wrote to Freud telling him of a dinner conversation he, along with his former Burgholzi supervisor Eugen Bleuler, had with an unnamed physicist:
         “Last Sunday I invited Bleuler over to my place; he was most amiable, everything went off smoothly, we spent the whole evening talking with a physicist about something far removed from our usual concerns—the electrical theory of light . . . .” (Freud/Jung letters, p. 171). Given the date of Jung’s letter to Freud, the dinner conversation would have taken place on January 15, 1911. The fact that Einstein had a scheduled speaking engagement on the theory of Relativity at the University of Zurich the following day, January 16, 1911, shows that he was likely primed and willing to discuss his Relativity theory (Graghoff & Hentschel, 2005, p. 78). Jung later recounted his encounters with Einstein during the Tavistock lectures identifying the physicist as Einstein:

I expected this myself when the famous Einstein was Professor at Zurich. I often saw him, and it was when he was beginning to work on his theory of Relativity. He was often in my house, and I pumped him about his relativity theory. I am not gifted in mathematics and you should have seen all the trouble the poor man had to explain Relativity to me. He did not know how to do it. I went fourteen feet deep into the floor and felt quite small when I saw how he was troubled. But one day he asked me something about psychology. Then I had my revenge. (CW18, para. 140)

         In her biography of Jung, Deirdre Bair (2003) cited the same 1911 encounter between Jung and Einstein: Einstein first visited the Jung home around 1911 and then again later, probably in 1912 or 1913” (p.731). Bair further elaborated on Jung’s observations of Einstein: Jung thought Einstein “was not a man whose thoughts radiated from him . . . [He was] like a musician who can be a listless guy, but then—when he makes music, you can see that he himself is the music and therein lies his greatness!” Although they had empathy for each other, it was not a sort that invited camaraderie: “Einstein was his thoughts; his thoughts were Einstein. He rode off into his mathematical reflections like Noah’s Ark, and that’s what happened with me, too” (Bair, p. 252).
         In 1957, during an interview with Dr. Richard I. Evans, Jung downplayed his relationship with Einstein and characterized himself not as a friend of Einstein, but merely his host. When the Dr. Evans asked whether Jung ever suggested to Einstein the possibility that Relativity might apply to psychic functions, Jung replied as follows: “Well, you know how it is when a man is so concentrated on his own ideas. And when he is a mathematician on top of everything, you are not welcome.” (1977/1993, p. 326). Jung acknowledged throughout his life that mathematics was not one of his strengths. For instance, Jung called himself “utterly amathematikos” (1976, p. 404). It may be that Jung’s weakness in mathematics could have led to an essential misunderstanding to Einstein’s explications during dinner conversations in 1911, as I will discuss later.
         The letter that I find most compelling is Jung’s February 25, 1953 correspondence with Carl Seelig:

I got to know Albert Einstein through one of his pupils, a Dr. Hopf if I remember correctly. Professor Einstein was my guest on several occasions at dinner, when, as you have heard, Adolf Keller was present on one of them and on others Professor Eugen Bleuler, a psychiatrist, and my former chief. These were very early days when Einstein was developing his first theory of Relativity. He tried to instill into us the elements of it, more or less successfully. As non-mathematicians we psychiatrists had difficulty in following his argument. Even so, I understood enough to form a powerful impression of him. It was above all the simplicity and directness of his genius as a thinker that impressed me mightily and exerted a lasting influence on my own intellectual work. It was Einstein who first started me off thinking about a possible Relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality. More than thirty years later this stimulus led to my relation with the physicist Professor W. Pauli and to my thesis of psychic Synchronicity. With Einstein’s departure from Zurich my relation with him ceased, and I hardly think he as any recollection of me. (1976, pp. 108-109)

Jung was unambiguous concerning Einstein’s role in his thinking. On the other hand, Jung indicated that Pauli was just as instrumental a figure in shaping his ideas about psychic Synchronicity. Another Einstein biographer has cited Jung’s account of his encounters with Einstein:

Einstein soon discovered that Relativity theory was arousing interest even among circles unconnected with physics. This was partly due to Ludwig Hopf, who was fascinated not only by physics but also by psychoanalysis, or “depth psychology.” Immediately after his arrival in Zurich, Hopf had called in the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung and had introduced Einstein to him. Einstein was Jung’s dinner guest on several occasions, and there also met Eugen Bleuler, the director of the internationally famous Burgholzli Psychiatric Institution, as well as a number of other medical men interested in Relativity. (Folsing, 1997, pp. 266, 267)

In a synchronistic twist, Einstein’s second son Eduard, who had aspired to become a Psychiatrist, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 20 while he was living in Zurich. He later died of a stroke in 1965. At the time of his death he was living at the Burgholzi Psychiatric Institution (Küpper).

Jung on Einstein and his Work

         What I have listed thus far constitutes—though by no means exhaustively—the prima materia of the Einstein/Jung nexus, that is to say, first-hand recollections of their serendipitous encounters and Jung’s subsequent reflections on these meetings. What follows chiefly makes up material—pulled from his letters and the collected works in a chronological sequence—indicating Jung’s attitude toward Einstein and by extension, the latter’s theory of Relativity. In the essay “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man,” Jung posed the following question: “Is it again a mere coincidence that modern thought has had to come to terms with Einstein’s Relativity theory and with nuclear theories which lead us away from determinism and border on the inconceivable?” (Jung, 1933, p. 213)
         On November 24, 1952, Jung wrote to American author Upton Sinclair. In the letter he apparently displayed sincere appreciation for the fact that Einstein wrote an introduction to Sinclair’s book Mental Radio. “Thank you for letting me see Professor Einstein’s highly complementary letter. I am duly impressed and feel quite low” (1976, p. 98). The subject of the book is Sinclair’s wife, who reportedly had certain psychic gifts—to include telepathy and clairvoyance. Per Sinclair, her abilities were tested and demonstrated in a controlled setting. In the preface of the book, Einstein was willing to lend his name and credibility to a speculative phenomenon that at the time—and today as well—operated only on the fringes of science. It is also of interest that Einstein mentioned the unconscious in his prefatory note: “So if somehow the facts here set forth rest not upon telepathy, but upon some unconscious hypnotic influence from person to person, this also would be of high psychological interest” (Sinclair, 1930/1962, p. ix). On May 28, 1953, Jung (1976) wrote the following to James Kirsch:

If God’s consciousness is clearer than man’s, then the Creation has no meaning and man no raison de’tre. In that case, God does in fact play dice, as Einstein says, but has invented a machine, which is far worse. Actually the story of the Creation is more like an experiment with dice than anything purposive. These insights may well indeed involve a tremendous change in the God image. “Synchronicity” [italics added] is soon to appear in English and Psychology and Alchemy is out at last. (p. 118)

In a letter to Stephen Abrams, dated October 21, 1957, Jung opined the following:

We are not sure how far the Relativity can go, so we do not know whether there is a level or a world on or in which space and time are absolutely abolished; but we remain within the limits of human experience when we accept the fact that it is the psyche which is able to relativize the apparent objectivity of time and space….However, Einstein’s Relativity theory shows that they are not necessarily identical with our idea of them, f.i, that space may be curved and time necessarily depends upon the stand point and the speed of the observer. Such considerations support the idea of their relative validity. Parapsychological experience definitely shows their uncertain behavior under psychic influence. (1976, p. 398)

God Bless you Mr. Pauli

         Jung was concurrently corresponding with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Pauli is of equal, if not greater, importance to Jung’s formulation of the Synchronicity concept. In order to appreciate Pauli’s influence on Jung it is necessary to first turn to Pauli’s background and relationship with Einstein. Pauli was junior to both Jung and Einstein, having been born in Vienna on April 25, 1900. Thus, when Jung first met Einstein, Pauli was only eleven years old. Pauli, a child prodigy, graduated from his gymnasium in Vienna with honors. “When still only 18 years old Pauli had a sufficient knowledge of mathematics and physics to write three essays on the general theory of Relativity (Geiser, 2004, p. 13). At the age of 21, Pauli wrote a monograph on the theory of Relativity that earned him accolades from Einstein himself (p. 16). Of the monograph, Einstein wrote:

No one studying this mature, grandly conceived work could believe that the author is a man of 21. One wonders what to admire most, the psychological understanding for the development of ideas, the sureness of mathematical deduction, the profound physical insight, the capacity for lucid systematic presentation, the complete treatment of the subject matter, or the sureness of critical appraisal. (Meier, 2001, p. xxxi)

         In 1928, Pauli was appointed professor of theoretical physics at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Following the death—by suicide—of his mother in 1927, Pauli began to suffer from depression. His depression, accompanied by deeply archetypal dreams, prompted him to seek out psychological help. Pauli later met Jung who was well known in Zurich in 1931 and began analysis with one of Jung’s students, Dr. Erna Rosenbaum. This occurred in February of 1932 (2001, p. 10). In June 1940, with Europe on the brink of war, Pauli, along with his wife, immigrated to America to assume a guest professorship at The Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey. Pauli was thus employed by Princeton University between 1940 and 1946 where he worked in close proximity to Einstein (p. 18).
         In 1945, after Einstein had nominated him, Pauli received the Nobel Prize in physics for his work 21years prior on the Exclusion Principle. During a speech in honor of Pauli, Einstein subsequently praised him calling Pauli his ‘spiritual son’ “who was to complete the work he had begun” (p. 21). Coincidently, C. A. Meier has suggested that Jung “was probably a ‘spiritual father’ to Pauli” as well (p. lviii). After the war in 1946, Pauli, now an American citizen, decided to return to Switzerland to resume his professorship at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Between October 25, 1946 and October 7, 1958, Jung and Pauli exchanged 39 letters. During this time period, Pauli also corresponded with Jung’s wife—Emma, as well as Jung’s secretary, Aniela Jaffe (pp. 230-231). As both men were residents of Zurich, they also met in person to talk and exchange information (Bair, p. 554). Their collaboration eventually culminated in the joint volume of The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (1955)—what amounts to a synthesis of Jung’s psychological thinking and Pauli’s intuitions regarding acausal phenomena. The Einstein/Jung nexus, when combined with Pauli as the tertium non datur, comprise a psychological trinity, that is to say, a rich radioactive source of archetypal energy. Einstein’s influence on Jung’s thinking, I suggest, is significantly amplified as a result of his relationship with Pauli who was well-versed in physics and whose understanding of Relativity was, with the exception of Einstein himself, unparalleled. Although Jung named Schopenauer the “godfather” of the concept of Synchronicity (Bair, p. 553), Einstein, with his pivotal role in the development of twentieth century physics, had a lasting and unshakeable impact. The Jungian scholar Roderick Main has called Einstein’s influence on Jung “a real and substantial one” (Main, 1997, p. 16).
         By examining a sampling of these letters, Einstein’s influence on Jung—compounded by Pauli—becomes more apparent. For instance, in a letter dated May 27, 1953, Pauli identified Einstein as his archetypal shadow while commenting how the “Self” was also contained in the shadow (Meier, 2001 p. 122). In associating Einstein with the shadow, Pauli was referring to Einstein’s reluctance—in contradistinction to Bohr’s pragmatic openness—to accept the implications of quantum theory, particularly the principle of complementarity. In the same letter, Pauli introduced a quaternity with Einstein and Pauli representing the north and south poles respectively and Jung and Bohr signifying the east and west poles. In a letter dated October 23, 1956, Pauli provided detailed descriptions of a dream sequence. In a dream dated May 20, 1955, Pauli provided the following dream content: “Once again I am in a laboratory, and this time Einstein is conducting the experiments. All they consist of is intercepting rays on a screen” (p. 148). Regarding the dream, Pauli said:

I regard Einstein as a manifestation of the ‘master.’ I cannot see what is behind the screen. It is the unconscious, which is visible only when it comes up against a material object (screen). And yet it has its own autonomous energy, such as rays, against which the screen is also a protection. (p. 149)

         It is important to note the dream approximately coincided with Einstein’s actual death as he passed away on April 18, 1955. On May 29, 1957, Aniela Jaffe wrote to Pauli at the behest of Jung requesting his opinion about a manuscript from an American named W.M. van Dusen. In the original letter to Jung, van Dusen said that Einstein had read his manuscript—“Mind in Hyperspace”—and charged that Einstein did not understand the ideas explicated in the book. Pauli replied to Jung and at length dismissed the work as “lacking any real foundation” based on its absence of any credible mathematics or principles commensurate to the notion of Relativity (p. 159). Thus, even as late as June 1957, only six months prior to the death of Pauli, Jung and Pauli were still discussing Einstein’s ideas and legacy.

Compelling Thoughts

         Ira Progoff, the late psychotherapist and a proponent of Analytical Psychology, asserted that “Einstein’s theory of Relativity is a primary background for Jung’s own theory of Synchronicity and his progressive reformulation of his theory of archetypes” (Progoff, 1973, p. 151). Progoff suggested that Relativity became the base and starting point for Jung’s own thinking about Synchronicity. Progoff attributed Jung’s 1946 address to the Eranos conference as the basis for his contention. (p. 151). According to Progoff, Jung confided in him that when Einstein was working in Zurich and was a frequent visitor, he and Jung would have long discussions over lunch (p. 151). Progoff further conjectured that the luncheon conversations may have been more fruitful than Jung realized (p. 152). Progoff’s account of multiple luncheon conversations, if true, is of paramount importance since it suggests that both Jung and Einstein’s dialogues were not limited to formal dinner banter, but consisted of more intimate personal discussions. Suzanne Geiser, in her exhaustive study of the Pauli/Jung nexus, also caught on to this inconsistency. She opined that if there were in fact something of more lasting significance exchanged between Jung and Einstein, Jung would have surely shared the account with Pauli. Jung does not mention any luncheons or lengthy discussions with Einstein anywhere in his letters or published material (2005, p. 274).
         The depth psychologist Joseph Cambray, citing the Seelig letter, also subscribed to the necessary consequence of Einstein’s influence on Jung’s thinking. Cambray offered the following insight regarding Einstein’s—and by extension Pauli’s—influence on Jung: “Although Jung’s grasp of field theory tended to lean backward to the classical models of the nineteenth century, with the help of Pauli and Einstein his intuition sought out and at times grasped relativistic [italics added] vistas” (2009, p. 109). Cambray also suggested that with his essay on “Synchronicity”, Jung was “attempting to embrace quantum theory and Relativity together” (p. 20). Corollary to Cambray’s conclusion, perhaps the most compelling indication of Einstein’s influence on Jung is a single handwritten note by Jung on Synchronicity that said “Synchronicity is a necessary consequence of the concept of the Relativity of time: “The modern concept of ‘complementarity of the unconscious and consciousness’” (Meier, 2001, p. 211).

Synchronicity in a Nutshell

         I feel it necessary to examine the confluence of Relativity and Synchronicity—through a brief review of terms and background—so that we may better understand how idle 1911 dinner chat about “the electrical theory of light” could influence Jung’s “thinking about a possible Relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality.” What is Synchronicity in a nutshell? Synchronicity is problematic in defining. Jung struggled to frame the phenomenon in a comprehensive and systematic way. The more he tried to expound on Synchronicity the more he conflated general concepts which further confused the issue. Pauli, for instance, was critical of Jung’s choice of words in naming the phenomenon arguing for the more inclusive term of meaning-correspondence in lieu of Synchronicity (Geiser, 2005, p. 287). In a letter dated December 12, 1950, Pauli told Jung the following: “I suggested that Synchronicity should be defined in a narrow sense so as to comprise effects that only appear when there is a small number of individual cases but disappear when there is a larger number” (Meier, 2005, p. 63). In the glossary of Memories, Dreams, Reflections , the following definition for Synchronicity is provided: A term coined by Jung to designate the meaningful coincidence or equivalence of a psychic and a physical state or event which have no causal [italics added] relationship to one another (Jung, 1961, p. 400). According to Barbara Hannah, Jung’s less than formal articulation of the phenomenon of Synchronicity was “the coincidence between an inner image or hunch breaking into one’s mind, and the occurrence of an outer event conveying the same meaning at approximately the same time” (Bair, p. 549). Jung first used the term Synchronicity in 1928 during a seminar on dream analysis, later published as Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930 . In the same paper, Jung said: “I have invented the word Synchronicity as a term to cover these phenomena, that is, the things happening at the same moment as an expression of the same time content” (Jung as cited in Cambray, p. 8). Jung described the concept for the first time in 1930 in a paper he dedicated to the memory of his late friend and Sinologist, Richard Wilhelm:

I found that there are psychic parallelisms which simply cannot be related to each other causally, but must be connected to another principle altogether. This connection seemed to lie essentially in the relative simultaneity of the events, hence the term ‘synchronistic.’ (CW15, para. 81)

         Jung’s interest in “acausal or synchronistic connective principle(s)” reached a zenith while he was writing his book Aion (Bair, 549). Drawing on alchemical and astrological symbols—most notably that of the fish symbol as a meaning-correspondence to the Christian era—Jung skillfully weaved an archetypal tapestry containing sharp synchronistic contours. Take for instance the passage in Jung’s Synchronicity paper where he described a number of synchronicities he observed while writing Aion:

Today is Friday. We have fish for lunch. Somebody happens to mention the custom of making an “April Fish” of someone. That same morning I made a note of an inscription which read: “Est homo totus medius piscis ab imo.” In the afternoon a former patient of mine, whom I had not seen for months showed me some extremely impressive pictures of fish which she had painted in the meantime. In the evening I was shown a piece of embroidery with fishlike sea-monsters in it. On the morning of April 2 another patient, whom I had not seen for many years, told me a dream in which she stood on the shore of a lake and saw a large fish that swam straight towards her and landed at her feet. I was at this time engaged on a study of the fish symbol in history. Only one of the persons mentioned here knew anything about it. (Jung, 1951/1959, CW9ii, para. 826)

Pauli was particularly drawn to Aionand even wrote a letter Jung expressing his interest in the material (Meier, 2001, p. 75).
         Jung, as a psychologist, understood that with Synchronicity he was formulating a concept rather than a scientific theory. He recognized that due to the problematic nature of his subject matter (e.g., acausal parallelism) since synchronistic phenomena tended to blur together any distinction (i.e., separation) between subject and object, and thus would not be able to withstand the rigorous statistical testing procedures (i.e., observation, replication, etc.) of the scientific method. In his essay of the same name, Jung spoke of the short falls in approaching Synchronicity with the scientific method:

This grasping of the whole is obviously the aim of science as well, but it is a goal that necessarily lies very far off because science, whenever possible, proceeds experimentally and in all cases statistically. Experiment, however, consists in asking a definite question which excludes as far as possible anything disturbing and irrelevant. (1952/1960, CW8: para. 864)

In a letter to Philip Wylie, Jung added that he did not view Synchronicity as a theory, but rather a concept. He insisted he did not propound theories but rather made discoveries, such as the world of the collective unconscious is a complete parallel to the microphysical world (Bair, p. 551).

The Principle of Relativity

         Relativity, on the other hand, is definitely a scientific theory, couched in the language of mathematics. As previously mentioned, it originated with Einstein’s publication of his seminal paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” in 1905. Since Jung had used the term “the electrical theory of light” in the 1911 letter to Freud, it is likely that the central topic of the dinner conversation was Einstein’s 1905 paper and its implications—Special Relativity. Thus, what did Einstein say? How did he articulate his ideas? How would he, given his disposition, explain his theories to a group of non-physicists? Jung has already provided some hints: “Einstein was his thoughts; his thoughts were Einstein. He rode off into his mathematical reflections like Noah’s Ark, and that’s what happened with me, too” (Bair, p. 252). Notwithstanding the inherent problem of clearly communicating the implications of a mathematical equation to a layperson, it is likely that Einstein used certain key conceptual words that imparted a significant degree of enthusiasm in the ever curious Jung, who suggested in his letter to Seelig that despite Einstein’s quantitative approach, he was able to grasp the general idea of Relativity.

Even so, I understood enough to form a powerful impression of him. It was above all the simplicity and directness of his genius as a thinker that impressed me mightily and exerted a lasting influence on my own intellectual work. (1976, pp. 108-109)

         In this section of the paper, all key conceptual words that I feel are relevant to the central thesis of this paper—Einstein’s influence on Jung—are written in bold. Einstein wrote his 1905 paper in order to demonstrate mathematically that the need for a luminiferous ether was in fact superfluous. The proposed existence of this light-medium was the result of Newton’s prediction of a “space absolutely at rest” (Einstein).
         Another consequence of Einstein’s paper was that that “light in empty space always propagates with a velocity which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body” (Einstein). This is a core feature of Relativity, a term introduced in the 1905 paper, however interestingly enough as The “Principle of Relativity” as opposed to a theory of Relativity. In Part I of his paper, entitled the “Definition of Simultaneity,” Einstein explained at length the inadequacies of “absolute time”, given the assumptions of his theory. For instance, Einstein used the “motion” of a “material body” as a start point, superimposed on a Cartesian coordinate system with “its values expressed as functions of time” (Einstein). Einstein added: “Now, it is always to be borne in mind that such a mathematical definition has a physical meaning only [italics added], when we have a clear notion of what is meant by ‘time’” (Einstein).
         Einstein used the time category as a heuristic tool to identify an observed phenomenon. Einstein continued:

We have to take into consideration the fact that those of our assessments, in which time plays a role, are always judgments on simultaneous events. For example, we say “that a train arrives here at 7 o’clock”; this means ‘that the exact pointing of the little hand of my watch to 7, and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events. (Einstein)

         ‘Two simultaneous events’ is another way of saying that two physical events coincide in proximity of the same spatial coordinate system. This amounts to a synchronism, that is to say, the train arrives at the station simultaneous to the little hand of my watch striking seven. Einstein maintained that this line of thinking works within a classical stationary system (i. e., Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm); however, when confronted with the implications of relativistic physics, a new paradigm is required. In his paper on Synchronicity, Jung brought the term’s etymology to the attention of the reader. Jung associated the term to a “kind of simultaneity” (Main, 1997, p. 94,) and went to great lengths to distinguish between what is synchronous and what he viewed as synchronistic:

Here I would like to call attention to a possible misunderstanding which may be occasioned by the term “synchronicity.” I chose this term because the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningfully but not causally connected events seemed to me an essential criterion. I am therefore using the general concept of synchronicity in the special sense of a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same or a similar meaning, in contrast to “synchronism,” which simply means the simultaneous occurrence of two events. (1952/1960, CW8: para. 849)

Einstein emphasized the role of the observer while evaluating events in a stationary system:

However, to chronologically evaluate the events, we can satisfy ourselves by assuming an observer who is stationed at the origin of coordinates with the clock, and who associates a signal of light – giving testimony of the event to be estimated and which comes to him through empty space – with the corresponding position of the hands of the clock. Deficiency of such an association is — as we know by experience — that it depends on the position of the observer provided with the clock. We can attain a far more practical result by the following treatment.

         Whereas Einstein was concerned solely with the physical picture, Jung as a psychologist was inclined to take into account the role of the observer’s psyche. In his paper, On the Nature of the Psyche, Jung remarked that “Between physics and psychology there is in fact ‘a genuine and authentic relationship of complementarity” (Jung, 1947/1954, CW8, para. 440). Einstein’s focus on the physical system at the expense of the psychological one foreshadowed his unwillingness to accept the indeterminism of the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum theory. Einstein’s influence on Jung can further be seen in Synchronicity and On the Nature of the Psyche, where he described Synchronicity as a “psychically conditioned Relativity of space and time [ italics added]. This means that a subjective element attaches to the physicist’s world picture, and secondly that a connection necessarily exists between the psyche to be explained and the space-time continuum” (1952/1960, CW8: paras. 440, 840).

Thus with the help of certain (imagined) physical experiences, we have established what we understand when we speak of clocks at rest at different places, and synchronous with one another; and thereby we have arrived at a definition of “synchronism” and “time”. The “time” of an event is the simultaneous indication of a stationary clock located at the place of the event, which is synchronous with a certain stationary clock for all time determinations. (Einstein)

One can draw from the passage above that Einstein likely turned to his own imagination as a means of synthesizing knowledge. Known to have had elaborate dreams, many of Einstein’s breakthroughs transpired as a result of conducting thought experiments. In the Jungian sense, one could interpret this method as a form of active imagination—“the process of concentrating on a single image or event long enough to allow it to develop of its own volition” (Bair, p. 290). Though highly speculative, the theory of Relativity could have been as a result of Einstein communing with the archetypal contents of his own unconscious; which would be no different than what Jung experienced during his so-called ‘confrontation with the unconscious’ (Jung, 1961, pp. 170-199).
         The more we examine Einstein’s 1905 paper, the more we encounter conceptual buzz words that later surface in Jung’s own work, particularly his work on Synchronicity. What I find most compelling is that both Jung and Einstein’s use of the same terminology, albeit in a dissimilar context—Jung’s through psychology and Einstein’s through physics. One hypothesis is that Jung, the psychologist, expanded the concept of a synchronism to include the coincidence of two more events, wherein at least one event was conditioned by the psyche (i.e., observer). The result—though not owing solely to the influence of Einstein—of course would be the concept of Synchronicity. A passage from Jung’s paper has indicated the vector of his thinking on this point:

This definition must be borne in mind particularly when it is a question of future events. They are evidently not synchronous but are synchronistic, since they are experienced as psychic images in the present, as though the objective event already existed. An unexpected content which is directly or indirectly connected with some objective external event coincides with the ordinary psychic state: this is what I call synchronicity, and I maintain that we are dealing with exactly the same category of events whether their objectivity appears separated from my consciousness in space or in time. (1952/1960, CW8, para. 855)

         It is clear that Jung could not grasp any mathematical consequences from the publication of Einstein’s 1905 paper, however, Einstein’s ideas, as paraphrased over dinner, stayed with him for many years; and subsequently I suggest that the nascent seed of an idea—regarding the psychic conditioning of the categories of space and time— took root within Jung, as evidenced by the Seelig letter: “It was Einstein who first started me off thinking about a possible Relativity of time as well as space, and their psychic conditionality [italics added].” The sine quo non of both Relativity and Synchronicity is an experience of space and time, or in Einsteinian parlance: space-time. Jung concluded that time is an epiphenomenon of consciousness—conditioned by the psyche—as opposed to the commonly accepted Newtonian-Cartesian view of space and time as absolute and objective categories.


         I often wonder what it would have been like to be there at 223, Seestrasse, Kusnacht-Zurich, to witness that serendipitous encounterso long ago, January 15, 1911. That of course, was over hundred years ago and not even my deceased grandfather (b. June 13, 1911) was yet among the living. So much has changed in our world since that time and even more has changed in the sciences of psychology and physics. As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, both men’s names still resonate loudly within mainstream culture—though Einstein’s a little louder than Jung’s. The four dimensions of space-time have given rise to many other theories, most notably string theory which proposes upward to a 10-dimensional space-time continuum. Even since Einstein’s heyday, physicists still honor him in their pursuit to discover a grand unified field theory that will mathematically unite gravity with electromagnetism. Jung on the other hand has become equated with the New Age movement, UFOs and esoterica in general. When Jung’s name is broached in social circles, it frequently prompts someone to say: “You mean the guy who worked for Freud?”
         All that aside, it seems to me that both men are mostly reluctant spokesperson for the two fundamental natures of the universe—physis and psyche. Jung was an introspective pioneer of inner space whereas Einstein, with his outward vision of an elegant universe, remains a champion for the extraverted powers of scientific materialism. I think in the end however, each man represents one side of the same coin. They offer us complementary—rather than a contradictory—picture of the world. Since Jung’s death, however, it is apparent that an extraverted slant toward physishas dominated western civilization resulting in what I consider a critical imbalance of the world’s soul. As our species evolves, we may learn one day that space and time are in fact merely the product of consciousness and at our journeys’ end when we look into the abyss—the unconscious—we will in fact see a reflection of ourselves looking back at us. Jung recognized that it was likely that the experience of matter and psyche originated from the same underlying reality that the alchemists called the Unus Mundus. This all equates to what Jung once described as the “uncomprehended purpose of the numinous experience: to make us feel the overpowering presence of a mystery” (as cited in Main, 1997, p. 39).
         In this paper, I have sought to demonstrate that Jung was in fact influenced by Einstein in a number of ways, particularly through the lens of Einstein’s theory of Relativity. Jung, though not a mathematician, grasped onto Einstein’s ideas and tried to apply them to depth psychology, not always with success I might add. It is my contention—given the evidence—that Einstein had influenced Jung far more than Jung had Einstein, at least on a conscious level. Wolfgang Pauli was essential to Jung’s formulation of Synchronicity and his presence in Jung’s life only further compounded the Einstein connection.
         In conclusion, it is apropos to return to the philosopher Kant, whose influence is so evident in both Jung and Einstein’s work. Kant succinctly juxtaposed the inner world of man’s conscience with the outer world—comprising the vast cosmos, above and beyond:

Two things fill the mind with awe and wonder the more often and more steadily we reflect upon them; the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me . . . . The former view of countless multitude of worlds annihilates my importance as an animal creature, which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter from which it came, the matter which is for a little time provided the vital force, we know not how. The latter, on the contrary, infinitely raises my worth as that of an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals a life independent of the whole world of sense . . . a destination which is not restricted to the conditions and limits of this life but reaches into the infinite. (Kant, 1788/1969, p. 162)


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By The Depth Coach in Academia, Life, Media, Psychology, Uncategorized

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